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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

International students reflect on experiencing American culture on the Brandeis campus

Published: November 13, 2009
Section: News

Panel: A group of international undergraduate and graduate students discuss the culture shock faced when a foreign student first encounters American culture.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot</i>

Panel: A group of international undergraduate and graduate students discuss the culture shock faced when a foreign student first encounters American culture.
PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot

Five international students from several undergraduate and graduate programs spoke about their experiences regarding American culture at a forum sponsored by the International Students and Scholars Office in the Levin-Ross room in the Hassenfeld Conference Center on Tuesday evening.

The panel featured Georiga Luikens, a PhD student from Australia, Vinodini Murugesan, a PhD student from Malasia, Nadir Daudi ’10 from Pakistan, Vilma Horca, a graduate student in the Sustainable International Development program from the Philippines, and Tenzing Sherpa ’12 from Nepal.

The students discussed many differences between their native cultures and American life hat have made their experience at Brandeis challenging ranging from the large workload to the language.

“These are things that you notice from the time you’re here but you can’t express them,” Sherpa said.

“Just because you speak the language doesn’t mean that you understand the culture,” Luikens said.

There are appoximately 1,000 international students from 115 countries at Brandeis said David Elwell, the director of the International Students and Scholars Program.

Elwell said that the diverse student body at Brandeis allows students to learn about different cultures from their real life experiences of meeting and forming friendships with international students.

“At a college or university, this is really an opportunity for you to get to know the world,” Elwell said. “That’s one of the really amazing things about Brandeis – that you want to meet people who are different than you.”

“I tell people that I have the best job in the world because on any given day I get to meet people from all over the world,” he said.

Murugesan found this to be true during her beginnings at Brandeis because when people would ask her “how are you?” she would often respond in detail, and didn’t realize “how are you is just a way of [saying] hello.”

Daudi found himself a bit lost when students were always talking amongst themselves about pop culture and all of the television shows they watch.

Luikens also voiced that in Australia people tend to live in one place much longer than they do in the United States. Commenting on how often young people move around the country to go to college and graduate school, “there is really this concept of really moving around this gigantic country,” he said.

In Australia, students usually go to university in their home city while living with their parents.

Another common theme mentioned by the students was the fast paced life and difficult amount of homework at Brandeis.

“This is like a big day everyday. It was hard to step back and relax,” Daudi said. “I think the overall attitude towards work or life [in the U.S] is that people are very driven to do things.”

Murugesan felt that although students do not take a large number of courses, each course has a significant portion of work.

“I could hardly cope in my first year,” Horca said. She addressed the fact that although long readings are often assigned, she did not realize that some of them were to be read quickly and just skimmed through to get a general understanding.

“Where I come from in Nepal we have a very different attitude. Time don’t mean anything,” Sherpa said.

Daudi also said he found Americans to be very friendly, “for the most part it’s been a fantastic experience,”he said.